Monday, September 3, 2012


 By Judy Jennings    © Copyright 2012

The laws that keep society civil...
The fourth triumph carries some weighty meanings, steeped as it is in the ideas of paternity, patriarchal authority, and governmental lawmaking powers.  Even Paul Case, with his penchant for casting new light onto old interpretations, wrote “The Emperor is obviously the consort of the Empress.  He is, in fact, essentially identical with the Magician, after the latter’s union with the High Priestess has transformed her into the Empress, and has made him the father of her children…After his consort has borne him children, the Emperor has the opportunity for actual exercise of his paternal authority.”  

Honestly, it took me years to figure out how to relate to this card.  It seemed neurotically preoccupied with male power, and almost creepily obsessed with control over powerful feminine forces.  What was there to like in this card?  More importantly, what was there for me to identify with?  The realization came just as the 20th Century was about to turn into the 21st, in a reading for myself about the New Millenium.  Granted, that’s a pretty big subject, but the insight that came along with it regarding The Emperor has been a big influence ever since.

The insight is the idea that Husbandry is the driving force behind The Emperor.  Defined as “management and conservation of resources”, husbandry suggests good leadership, cooperation and strong nurturing of the environment. That last component is perhaps the most extreme departure from traditional thinking, as “nurturing” and “controlling” are radically different states of mind.  The Emperor is about the setting of healthy boundaries for the personality, and the loving care of all that thrives within them.  Without that balance, law is sterile and without real meaning, and in its best expression, The Emperor knows it. 

Now that we’ve placed The Emperor into the context of husbandry, we’re ready to consider other qualities of the fourth triumph.  Meanings for this card extend beyond the personal and into the social realm, where The Emperor is traditionally considered to represent law-making authority and war-making power.  There is, however, a metaphysical side to the nature of lawmaking.  Here’s Paul Case on the subject:

“Laws are definitions and it should always be borne in mind that what we call ‘laws of nature’ are simply definitions or descriptions of a sequence of events in some particular field of human observation…Our personal definitions of the meaning of our experience constitute suggestions which are accepted, without reservation, by our subconsciousness.  Thus, in a sense, every man makes his own law, writes the constitution of his own personal world, and finds that his life-experience is the reproduction of that constitution through the working of subconscious responses.”  From “The Tarot, A Key To The Wisdom Of The Ages”, originally published in 1947.

It makes me think of a bumper sticker I had once.  “Thoughts create words.  Words create actions.  Actions create reality.  Think good thoughts!”  Whether put into many words or few, the lesson is that our subconscious mind believes unequivocally what our conscious mind tells it, and then creates our reality based on those thoughts and attitudes.  The conscious mind is where the seeker of enlightenment has control over how thoughts develop, and therefore the ability to influence the direction of one’s own reality.  Not an idea unique to Tarot, by any means, but an important thought that is specifically presented in the cards by The Emperor, with its emphasis on the setting of regulations.

A friend has tried to clue me in on this point in the past, and I think I’m finally getting it.  At times I can be kind of sarcastic, and every once in a while when I say something especially caustic, she’ll remind me.  “Don’t say that,” she’ll tell me, “your subconscious doesn’t know you’re kidding!”

In terms of personality development, the fourth major arcana demonstrates movement from the formation of a healthy psychological foundation shown by the first three cards, into a stage of interaction with the world.  The Emperor embodies steady growth, gifted management ability and the dynamic projection of the personality.  In a reading, the desire to commit to a person or project might be indicated.  Tremendous support for the efforts of others is suggested, as are a love of nature and a sense of protectiveness for the Earth.  All matters of ego and self-confidence are addressed in this realm as well.  The forces that come together in The Emperor are the platform on which our achievements are built.  This is the face with which we greet the world.

Next, let’s consider some examples of the three possible types of expression for The Emperor in a reading.  (If you missed the discussion on this, see the recent post about the “Rubik’s Cube” of Oracles.)  Integration of the qualities of this card might refer to a young adult taking on family or job responsibilities.  Equilibrium could represent an ethical person in a position of authority.   When the forces of disintegration are present, The Emperor might indicate a petty tyrant.  It’s fair to say that this triumph has an unusually wide range of possible interpretations, and consideration of the which mode of expression is shown will help narrow down the specific meaning in a reading.   

The occult qualities associated with the number four also help to put The Emperor into perspective.  Order, measurement, classification, calculating intelligence and benevolence are all aspects that are displayed in the personality of The Emperor.  The occult properties of the number four are concerned with forces that help to secure us in the material world.

Finally, consider how the nature of The Emperor is opposite that of the preceding Empress.  This is true for all of the major arcana; each one expresses qualities that are opposite from the card before it.  If you’d like to try an insightful exercise, lay out major arcana 1 through 21 in order and examine this dynamic.  The idea of maintaining balance is a clear theme throughout the cards.

The Emperor proves to be a very thought-provoking card with multiple layers of meaning.  It can be approached on a personal or social scale, it expresses loving guidance, and most of all, it represents the state of mind where we set the definitions that create the reality of our lives.  Thanks to Iris for tossing out a comment at our meetup yesterday that immediately joined the ranks of my favorite descriptions of this card:  “The Emperor represents the laws that keep society civil”.


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